The pleasure of good paper

Good paper is worth having, now more than ever. Paper quality has plummeted, from the pads companies buy for their employees to the paper in the copier. More than ever a paper document is seen as a barely necessary waste, and as a result we’ve developed a near contempt for paper. It’s hard to argue with documents that aren’t used much, or are destined for files.

But for personal planning documents it is worthwhile to get decent paper, both for physical and psychological reasons.

My project management system is handwritten on letter size sheets. I like software, but I haven’t found any that helps me think like writing on paper does. I’ve tried several and I always end up filing in the software after the fact. Instead of a leading-edge tool, it’s a trailing edge burden. So I have a sheet for every project where I log what’s been happening, and note what the next action should be. A few times a week I page through the stack of project sheets, bringing them up to date and making the next action list. When I write on paper I think more fluidly, and when I look over projects I’m constantly making notes on what’s happened, and those notes prompt the next actions. I look at this stuff a lot, and handle it a lot. How it feels affects how I feel.

The paper I use is Strathmore Writing 25% cotton in 24lb weight, in natural white. Neenah’s Classic Crest is also excellent, and Crane’s 100% cotton is good but not as smooth to write on. Finding these papers can be a little challenging, but try your local print shop. Not the Kinko’s style copier places, although they might know what you’re asking for, but a real print shop with actual offset presses. Or you can go directly to a paper distributor like Xpedx or Unisource, or a local company. Many will sell to the public, and Xpedx and Unisource have some stores that target that market.

You can also checkout the fine business papers section of the local office superstore, but my experience is that these papers aren’t aimed at writing, but resumes, thesis, and similar documents that are usually printed. Laid and linen finishes are common and while attractive to look at not very smooth to write on. Wove or kid finish is much nicer.

High quality paper is nicer to write on because it takes ink well and the surface has better texture than copier paper. I can write on both sides without show through. It’s nicer to handle because it is softer due to the cotton content. It’s stiffer so it handles wear better and when a little worn it looks a heck of a lot better than pure pulp paper.

It’s like dressing better. It makes me feel more dignified, and that translates to my work. I take my planning more seriously, and I write more neatly than when I use cheaper paper.

It’s cheap luxury. A ream of very good quality 24lb paper is $25-$30. That same paper, in the same quantity, in Tops Diamond Fiber pads would be about $50. Yes, I lose the cardboard backing, but an inexpensive portfolio is less wasteful and provides a nice surface.

Some may find the blank page to be too unstructured or distracting. You can download custom line patterns, such as the Cornell system, and make whatever you need. I prefer the blank sheets, even though my writing may not be quite as neat as it is on lined paper. I think better using them, although really good thinking often results in a chaotic looking document. Rewriting or typing it provides a good chance to edit and consolidate thoughts.

High quality paper sends a subtle message that is received less often today, but it is still a message worth sending.

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